I used to think that identity was found somewhere along the side of the road. Not like the carcass of a raccoon, but in passing through the prairies and spontaneous stops in Dodge City for beer, or the climbs and descents of the Rockies. Or maybe that identity was in the love of the cicadas screeching on sticky, humid nights full of sweet tea and the smell of honeysuckle. I thought perhaps a person can find themselves on the vision quests in the deep dark blue night of a desert, guided by the mourning voices of coyotes. Perhaps it was in church, where my voice would join the voices of a hundred angels singing their praises, and even the tone-deaf sounding like sweet music to the ears of a Lord I wasn’t sure I knew.
I would yearn for the beat life on the road of Jack Kerouac or the existential investigation of Donald Miller as he crossed through painted deserts and lived in a cave in Oregon. I’d think that maybe a cabin on the side of the lake and writing about the movements of ants was the marrow of life and that I was missing that belonging and purpose and sense of self that all of the greatest poets and artists had perfected.
Humans have always struggled with identity. We meet ourselves as children and spend a few years building that relationship. We are just happy to have met ourselves. But as we grow, and spend more time with ourselves and with others, we start to wonder. What if my entire life is an elaborate trick by some malevolent force? Who am I? What am I? What does it mean to be human? Is there even a point to that question? Am I reducible to a single thing, or am I a bunch of tiny things all acting together? Am I alone?
My Christian friends will tell you, and me, that our identity is found in Christ, but no one seems to be sure exactly what that means. Or what it looks like. And if it’s true, then why do we have to have other people tell us? Other people can tell us who we are? What if they’re wrong?
Although I am inclined to agree with my Christian friends on that esoteric and vague concept of “identity in Christ,” I don’t know what it means. I don’t know what that looks like. Some people have told me it looks like coffee shop quiet time and a healthy peppering of the word “just” to make a sentence seem more like it’s “in Christ.”
I always wonder if their descriptions are really what God wants, or what they want God to want. And I will probably never know the answer.
I think maybe that God is not in the certainty. Maybe God is not in the storms and earthquakes and fires and all of the tangible and concrete things that we can be certain of. Maybe God is in the silence. Maybe God is the deafening silence that responds to us when we scream out into the void “Who am I?” Maybe who we are is less in the worship sessions and more in the clumsy, stumbling existential questions and the dissatisfaction with the answers we don’t want to hear.
Maybe that’s what it means to have “identity in Christ.” To be comfortable with a God can die on a cross. Maybe our identity is with the man who screamed “Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachtani!”; wondering why our voices, our searches, our questions, and our quests for identity are answered by silence.
Because that is where God is.